Wednesday, July 9, 2014

preparing for Kenya: buying scrubs and fostering fresh eyes, an open heart

My trip to Kenya is just a little over a month away. I'm starting to get more intentional about my preparations - including asking a few experienced friends for input or advice about travel to Africa, writing about Africa, etc.

One friend, who traveled as a photographer with Alabaster Mobile Clinic on this same trip two years ago, responded with this email:

Tips? 

Stay away from elephants
Embrace being smelly
Just love the kids, kids all over the world need love hugs and laughter. It transcends language
Pray

There is a new scrub store on walnut, cross street Catalina. I just bought scrubs there! They all fit funny so don't stress about it :) 

(Yes, I'd confided in her my hesitations about wearing scrubs - required attire as part of the clinics we'll be running. How will I know if my butt looks big without being able to try them on? Glad she recommended a store to check out.)

Another friend, Amber, lives in east Africa (Uganda - a wholly different country than Kenya, but in the same region). She's also in the middle of an MFA program in creative nonfiction and is writing about her transition to life in Uganda as an expat, and about conflicts and issues she and her young family face. Her blog is great, and hopefully soon she'll have more published pieces to read. She passed along this an important essay written by a Kenyan man about writing about Africa. His use of satire is effective. As in, it has made me afraid to write about Africa. Here's an excerpt:

Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

I talked to Amber about this briefly when I got to see her a few weeks ago, and she told me to just write what I see and hear and feel, and worry about the politics of what I've written in the revisions. I'm hoping that I'll be able to see Kenya, and the people we meet, with fresh eyes and an open heart and mind, enough to write about them with due generosity and thoughtfulness.

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